One year from today, voters across the nation will cast their ballots for President of the United States. Today I’ll discuss where a couple of the candidates go to church and some interesting trivia about Presidential church attendance. The comments will remain open for as long as you can act in a civilize manner, and not like a bunch of savages. If you like this, I may continue it as a regular feature.
Harry Jackson, senior pastor of Hope Christian Church near Washington, DC is a scholar on the black church and penned an article for the Wall Street Journal examining the theological underpinnings of the home churches of President Obama and Herman Cain.
Like President Obama, Mr. Cain belongs to a mostly black congregation with a black pastor. But that is where the similarities end. Stark differences between the political philosophies of these two men may be rooted in their profoundly different theological heritages. The churches both men are (or in the case of Mr. Obama, were) longtime members of are known for liberal activism, but with notable differences in their views of scripture.
Mr. Cain’s church, Antioch Baptist Church North in Atlanta, Ga., is theologically conservative, affirming the inerrancy of scripture and historic Christian creeds as literally true.
The Chicago church where President Obama belonged for 20 years, Trinity United Church of Christ, is theologically liberal, eschewing scriptural inerrancy and taking apostolic creeds as “testimonies” of faith, rather than literally, unchangeably true. The scriptures are seen more as “living documents” than permanent anchors and pillars of faith.
It’s a very well-written piece and I highly suggest reading it in its entirety.
Two articles in the national press discussed Cain’s home church in Atlanta, Antioch Baptist Church North, which in its 133-year history has grown from eight former slaves who prayed together into a 14,000 member congregation that sits on a campus of more than 15 acres and includes among its ministry the Gateway Apartment Community providing 261 low-income housing units.
The AJC article on Cain’s relationship to Antioch focused on the dissonance of members who support Cain personally while disagreeing with his politics.
“As far as [Cain’s] politics goes, not everyone [in the church] agrees with that,” said church member Monroe Scott. “It’s kind of interesting to see a black man running against a black man.
“He’s a native son that we’ve known for many years,” said Scott, leaving services recently at the church near Northside Avenue, close to the Georgia Dome. “But this is kind of weird.”
Some, like Joe Beasley, a deacon, chose their words carefully.
“Mr. Cain is a friend of mine and a fellow church member,” said Beasley, the Southern director of Rainbow/PUSH, a social and civil rights organization created by the Rev. Jesse Jackson. “I respect him for what he’s doing. I wish him well.”
The people who go to Antioch Baptist North love Cain, said state Sen. Valencia Seay, D-Riverdale. She joined the church in 1959, and remembers Cain as a young man.
“We’re all proud of him,” said Seay. “I’m sure he is led to serve, and I wish him the best.”
“But I cannot vote for him,” Seay said. “My president is already in office.”
CNN’s Belief Blog also suggested that Cain’s church is an audience his politics may not appeal to.
At Antioch, Cain has had to share the pews with fiery critics of the Republican Party like Joe Beasley, a man born to sharecroppers who once said he’s been called the “N-word” more times than he can count.
Beasley is a deacon at Antioch and serves as Southern regional director for Jesse Jackson’s Rainbow PUSH Coalition. He also knows Cain and has no problem with his presence at Antioch.
“We’re good friends. He’s a great speaker and a great singer. He has a great love for the church,” Beasley says.
Beasley says he doesn’t talk politics with Cain, though.
“I respect him – and I want to keep my respect for him,” Beasley says.
Beasley, who worked with Cain on his unsuccessful 2004 run for one of Georgia’s U.S. Senate seats, says Antioch’s acceptance of the former Godfather’s Pizza CEO is not unusual. It’s an attitude, he says, that starts at the top with Alexander.
“The reverend’s position is when we open the door, whosoever comes, let them come,” Beasley says.
CNN also noted conservative theology of Antioch:
The black church has long been a paradox. It is one of the most politically liberal but theologically conservative institutions in the black community. Cain’s house of worship embodies some of these contradictions.
Antioch is a member of the National Baptist Convention USA Inc., a denomination in which some churches do not ordain women. The denomination’s leadership publicly broke with King over his civil rights activism.
Earlier this year, Cain gave an extended interview to Christianty Today about his faith and the campaign he was considering embarking upon.
What would you say to those who see government assistance as one avenue through which our society can help the poor and the oppressed, as Christ commanded?
Christ empowered people. He didn’t make them dependent. That’s the difference. And I’ve said we must go from an entitlement society to an empowerment society. Programs today are designed to make people more dependent rather than less dependent. When Jesus gave three servants talents—this is in Matthew, the story of the ten talents, the five talents, and the one talent—he expected them to go out and use those talents to multiply those talents. And the servant that got the one talent sat on it, did not multiply it, and he was chastised by Christ. So that is the parable that suggests Jesus didn’t want people to be dependent.
Jesus could have sat there and said, “Okay, when you use up those talents”—and that could have been food, it could have been water, shelter—”come back and I’ll give you some more.” No. He wanted them to go out and use them to multiply them. And so I believe that Christ wants people to be empowered to help themselves.
Researching for this post, I came across an article about President Obama’s decision to attend chapel services at Camp David rather than finding a home church in Washington.
[I]n an unexpected move, Obama has told White House aides that instead of joining a congregation in Washington, D.C., he will follow in George W. Bush’s footsteps and make his primary place of worship Evergreen Chapel, the nondenominational church at Camp David.
A number of factors drove the decision — financial, political, personal — but chief among them was the desire to worship without being on display. Obama was reportedly taken aback by the circus stirred up by his visit to 19th Street Baptist in January. Lines started forming three hours before the morning service, and many longtime members were literally left out in the cold as the church filled with outsiders eager to see the new President.
One day I was speaking with a member of the Georgia House in the CLOB and noticed a photo on the wall of a young child with what looked like Richard Nixon. Since I was standing in a Democrat’s office I thought it curious and asked about the photo. I was told that President Nixon had church services at the White House and their family had attended when the photo was taken.
In fact, Nixon held the services in the East Room of the White House and Rev. Billy Graham preached at the first of what became regular 11 AM services most Sundays. Also preaching in Nixon’s White House was Norman Vincent Peale, (.pdf) one of my favorite writers.
[Totally random notes] (1) It’s interesting to me that the same Joe Beasley who was arrested earlier this week in support of Occupy Atlanta was involved in Herman Cain’s 2004 Senate bid; (2) I am surprised that Senator Valencia Seay was old enough to be joining a church in 1959; she’s always been a kind whenever I’ve spoken to her; (3) at the time of the Obamas decision to make Camp David’s chapel their home church, the Chaplain was Lt. Carey Cash, great-nephew of Johnny Cash; and (4) the photo at top ran in the October 5, 2011 edition of The United Methodist Reporter.